One of the many things to have changed since coronavirus struck is how we shop. Lockdown brought about a necessary move from the high street to online. As a result, it’s estimated that almost 28% of the UK’s retail sales in 2020 will be eCommerce sales. This is set to rise to one-third by 2024. (1)
In 2019, the UK was the world’s third-largest eCommerce market with £200 billion in sales. (2) The numbers are even more impressive when you look at the global eCommerce market. The $2.3 trillion we spent online in 2017 is on course to be dwarfed by the $4.88 trillion projected for 2021. (3)
So, if your business doesn’t currently offer online sales, you’re potentially missing out on a whole chunk of change. And one of the best ways to maximise profits with multiple sales from multiple sellers is to introduce a multi-vendor marketplace platform.
We know that taking one small step towards creating your own marketplace can seem like one giant leap. That’s why we put together this guide to explain what your options are, and why we believe you just can’t beat a custom solution.
- What is a multi-vendor marketplace?
- How to create a multi-vendor marketplace
- Why we recommend a custom solution
- Off-the-shelf solutions
- CS-Cart Multi-Vendor
- Want to discuss your custom multi-vendor marketplace?
What is a multi-vendor marketplace?
Multi-vendor marketplaces are a great way to give your customers more options. That’s because rather than being an online gateway for one brand to sell their products, they allow multiple vendors to sell a huge selection of items.
The brands benefit from an existing site with a steady flow of traffic, and the owner of the multi-vendor marketplace benefits from a cut of each seller’s profits. The chances are you already use a multi-vendor marketplace (on a daily basis if you’re anything like us) with some of the most popular including Amazon, eBay, Etsy and Not on the High Street.
How to create a multi-vendor marketplace
Once you’ve decided a multi-vendor marketplace is the next step for your business, here’s what you need to get started:
- A strong brand
- Domain name
You’ll then need some multi-vendor eCommerce software to integrate to your website. If you’re not sure what features you need for your buyers and sellers, you can check out our handy guide to online marketplace success here.
As for what multi-vendor marketplace software to select, you’ve got a choice: an off-the-shelf solution or a custom solution. Curious as to which one we prefer? Well, here’s the answer…
Why we recommend a custom solution
There are a number of off-the-shelf multi-vendor platform options available but they all have one thing in common: their built-in features limit what you’re able to do. There’s also the risk that in the future the software or third-party plug-ins may stop being updated or no longer receive support.
The only way to guarantee your multi-vendor marketplace requirements are fully met for the entirety of your business life-span is to opt for a custom solution. In fact, here are five more reasons why a custom solution is the top choice for you:
1) You own it: If you’ve got one eye on selling your business in the future, investors will be more receptive to custom-built software as it will be your intellectual property
2) Cost-effective: With no monthly fees or unexpected costs down the line for plug-ins, new features or updates, custom software is more budget-friendly over time
3) Better UX: You control the specification of a custom solution so you can ensure it provides a great user experience for both your customers and your sellers
4) You’re in control: Off-the-shelf software can be subject to unexpected changes (e.g. costs, T&Cs, software updates) With custom, you have full control at all times
5) It grows with you: As your brand grows or the market changes, custom solutions let you quickly and easily adapt and scale without the need for expensive upgrades
Curious how we create our custom eCommerce solutions? We often use the open-source, flexible PHP web framework, Laravel, which allows easy customisation, features such as multi-currency and payment integration, and has a thriving support open source community.
Off the shelf solutions
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most popular off-the-shelf multi-vendor marketplace examples. If you are after a quick, cheap and cheerful solution, then let’s take a look at the options
Popular with small to medium multivendor marketplaces, WooCommerce works alongside WordPress to allow content-focused sites to also sell products. It integrates with WordPress plugins such as WC Vendors, which lets vendors easily register. They can then add products using the WordPress dashboard. Although WooCommerce and WordPress are free, the WC Vendors plugin has a yearly (or optional lifetime) fee. The main downfalls are: Lack of bespoke UX and design for your target users and vendors. You are limited to using 3rd party themes which can be clunky and not great for a mobile experience. The sites gets bloated and slow very quickly because of the amount of plug-ins required to have the features you need, which will damage your SEO and general user experience.
Shopify has an extension that lets you turn your existing eCommerce shop into a marketplace. The drag and drop functionality makes it quick and easy to build and design your site and add unlimited vendors and products, and sync products from other online stores. There are also a number of third-party plugins available that allow you to further customise the interface. Whilst Shopify is a leader in standard E-commerce ‘Out of the Box’, multi-vendor is a different discipline and managing the platform in the back-end and customising a design in the front-end requires skill and technical knowledge.
This open-source platform has a Marketplace extension again, which lets you convert your online store into a multi-vendor marketplace. Prospective vendors register on your site ready for you to approve their request before they add products. They can then view and manage their inventory and profile via a vendor dashboard. The Marketplace extension has a one-off fee and you may need technical support to help get everything up-and-running. Fee’s can add up with Magento and it has a particularly cumbersome feel, both for admins and users due to the amount of code bloat in the system. Design is hugely limited with Magento offering less options than most other platforms.
For a one-off lifetime fee, the CS-Cart Multi-Vendor platform lets you create and run a marketplace straight ‘out of the box’ without the need for additional extensions. This option boasts no less than 500 marketplace features all of which are customisable. The dashboard gives an at-a-glance overview of how your store is performing and the mobile app lets you manage on the move. Technical support is free for three months but then charged after that. CS-cart is certainly more rich in features than most other platforms but feels clunky from a user perspective. UX and design are again compromised due to themes and templates.
Sharetribe differs from the other options we’ve discussed in that it allows vendors to sell services and rentals alongside products. It is, therefore, a popular choice for a peer-to-peer marketplace platform aimed at individual sellers rather than established stores. The open source version requires additional support to develop and customise your marketplace and you are left to your own devices to push your business once you have the site up and running.
Want to discuss your custom multi-vendor marketplace?
When it comes to building custom multi-vendor marketplaces, we’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt (bought from the multi-vendor marketplace, of course)!
Want to discuss your marketplace? Get in touch and we’ll set about bringing your dream to life.